Security after Paris: Is Israel our future?

From troops in the street to growing suspicions of foreigners, is Europe coming to accept draconian measures once associated with an Israeli security state?  

By: /
December 7, 2015
Israel checkpoint
Israeli soldiers check Palestinian cars at a checkpoint at the entrance to the village of Halhul near the West Bank city of Hebron December 1, 2015. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
David Tabachnick

Professor of Political Science at Nipissing University

On the first September 11th of his presidency, Barack Obama solemnly pronounced, “Every year on this day, we are all New Yorkers.”  

“Right now, we are all Londoners,” declared the mayor of Paris, on July the 8th, 2005, the day after the double suicide attacks on the city’s transportation system.

Last month, this same message was offered back to Paris, “Tonight, we are all Parisians,” said John Kerry, the American Secretary of State.

And yet, these expressions of unity and sadness were also followed by questions of why there haven’t been similar messages sent out to the Beirutis, or the Kabulis and Baghdadis. Headlines the week following the attack included, “Why Is Beirut's Brutal Terrorist Attack Being Ignored?,” “Beirut Wonders if Some Terror Attacks Mean More Than Others,” and “Beirut, Also the Site of Deadly Attacks, Feels Forgotten.”

There is one obvious reason for this discrepancy. These countries are associated with violence and terrorism. Lebanon has been the site of no less than 30 terrorist attacks since 2012. Along with 43 killed and 200 injured just on November 12th, 2015, a day before the Paris attacks, 145 people have been killed and more than 1300 wounded, mostly civilians, over the last three years.

The sad fact is that the capital of Lebanon is considered safe compared to Kabul and Baghdad.

Suicide bombings are not common to New York, London and Paris, and so when these attacks do occur they stir understandable shock, sympathy and terror. The concern, of course, is that such attacks will become weekly events and that these beautiful and vibrant capital cities will be brought down low as have their once great Middle Eastern counterparts.

But, as the initial shock wears off, we should rethink the long-term consequences terrorism has on large and prosperous European cities.

Rather than comparing Paris to Beirut, we should compare France and perhaps the rest of Europe to Israel. Relentless suicide bombings and terror attacks over many years led the Israelis to take drastic and often draconian security measures including the building of walls and fences, the broad use of “administrative detention,” the permanent presence of troops in the street, and the placement of security guards on every bus stop and mall entrance. From a high of 47 suicide attacks in 2002, with 238 killed and 84 injured, Israel has suffered no fatalities from bombings since 2009. Israelis have had to learn to live with the threat of an attack at any time and innocent Palestinians have had to suffer treatment as second-class citizens and suspected killers.

The most recent spate of stabbings and vehicular attacks over the last year represents something of a strange victory for Israeli security measures. Kitchen knives and cars are preferable to suicide vests laden with explosives.

Realistically, Paris will not become Beirut but France, Belgium and the rest of Europe have already become more like Israel, building fences on borders, declaring a state of emergency, soldiers deployed to monitor neighbourhoods and protect tourist attractions, and a growing suspicion of Muslim citizens and immigrants.

Military strategy and foreign policy may be at the forefront at the moment but the long-term domestic effect of terrorism is of greater consequence. The same culture of fear and insecurity that led Israel to implement their current domestic security regime, subject to so much European condemnation, is now present in Paris. Unfortunately, whether the French will take the same route as the Israelis may depend more on the effectiveness of the terrorists than on any commitment to freedom and human rights.